Friday, November 25, 2016


We were strolling through the meso-american section of the Milwaukee Public Museum, and I noticed that I didn't notice any figures of dogs. Was I not looking for the right features on the stylized images, or were they scarce to begin with? North American Indians had dogs--the South must have too.

Yes, of course. Chihuahuas, of course, among many others. And there were some paintings and some figures--the example Wikipedia links to looks very un-stylized and doggy. There was nothing about how frequently dogs were portrayed, but since they ate dogs they may not have thought them as quite as suitable for dramatic art as jaguars.

But one link leads to another(*)--did Indians domesticate coyotes? There aren't any Hare Indian's left, but maybe there are bones somewhere. The argument went that they looked like them (but other dogs do too), sounded like them (other dogs don't), other dogs hated them (as though they were another species). Not overwhelming arguments, but if people can find a little DNA somewhere, it might be worth checking. If wolves, and foxes, and culpeos, why not coyotes?

(*) Which leads to not getting any writing done...

UPDATE : See Retriever's detailed comment.

1 comment:

Retriever said...

I think your point about them eating dogs is part of the reason. How many portraits of chickens do we see in our museums? The British landed gentry went thru a phase in the 18th and 19th century of having a few of their champion animals painted with them, but these ones were mosty stud animals, or had earned a reprieve from the slaughterhouse by winning prizes. As a local pig farmer told me "you can't kill it once you've given it a name" and I think the same thing goes for memorializing it artistically....

I'm also thinking the coyotes were key, and the incredible hostility between them and dogs. Also between wolves and dogs. Also the fact that both eat the kinds of ankle biters early Native Americans raised for food. It doesn't matter that a basic mutt may look just like a coyote or a wolf or a coywolf. Or that their DNA is incredibly close. To each other the differences are everything. We are no different. Human beings from different parts of the country are often hostile to each other, and we all know how people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds may circle each other warily, despite being so similiar genetically.

Just because a female dog in heat might attract some males of the other closely related species, doesn't mean that (like Montagues and Capulets) they will relax their blood feud.

I notice this because I have a dog of uncertain ancestry to whom ALL dogs react with alarm, no matter how she behaves. Sometimes a dog will smell my hands after I have been petting my dog and start barking. Normslly dogs like me, and come up to me begging to be patted, ears scritched, so it is very noticeable. Because it is a rescue, God only knows what her ancestry is, but something clearly doesn't smell right to the pet shop doggies of our neighborhood. Perhaps she just has offensively dominant smelling pheromones? She tends to herd all other dogs into a tight circle when with a group of them.

Another thing that intrigues me is the fascination some Native American cultures had with the coyote figure at the same time as people in the Fertile Crescent were caught up in stories about Human Tricksters (if I have my chronology correct). It's curious because the actual coyote is a nuisance, and a menace, so if you think about it, despite all these seemingly favorable stories about the Coyote, he is still outside the society, which implies that being a cheater and manipulator may be something people enjoy fantasizing about in a story, but essentially do not approve of. Whereas many of the great cultural heroes of Israel and Greece for example were deceitful, manipulative and what we would consider dishonorable, and are the centeral heroes in the stories. I am not knowledgeale about early Persian or other Middle Eastrn myths but suspect something similar.

So a coyote has an important role as a kind of bearer of certain anti-social tendencies of the community. Hence representations of him

By contrast, dogs were exploited, abominably treated, not fit for art.